Saturday, 19 July 2008

1989: The Death Of Jackie Merrick

Advertised on TV in 1989 - Ian Sharrock as Jackie Merrick was featured on the cover of the last of the original "Emmerdale Farm" novels, "Wives And Lovers", by James Ferguson.

The arrival of the Merrick family in Beckindale in 1980 had me becoming a confirmed fan of Emmerdale Farm. I'd liked the show since I was little, but there had been no permanent characters I could really identify with at peer group level. Jackie and Sandie Merrick were very much youngsters of the era, having experienced childhood in the miserable, militant and increasingly cynical '70s, they were now experiencing teenagehood in what seemed set to be another grim decade.

Okay, sometimes they listened to Shakin' Stevens and wore "fogey" clothes that your average early '80s youngster would not have been seen dead in (the Emmerdale Farm wardrobe department had never been hip and funky) but that aside they were mixed up enough and stroppy enough to have fitted in with me and my pals. They seemed pretty real.

The Merrick family had originally appeared in the show during its first season in 1972, but at that time Jackie and Sandie were small children. Both child and adult members of the family were portrayed by different actors and actresses. Tom Merrick was portrayed by David Hill, Edward Peel and Jack Carr during his occasional appearances in the '70s and '80s. In 1980, Helen Weir, Ian Sharrock and Jane Hutcheson made the roles of Pat, Jackie and Sandie their own. There were other changes: in season one, Pat's Christian name had been Ruth and she had been the mother of three children.

Jackie, as we know, was the (at first secret) son of Jack Sugden. He matured, settled down to farming, married young Kathy Bates and then, in 1989, was suddenly killed off.

His mother, Pat, had already been killed off in a car crash storyline in 1986, and sister Sandie and step father Tom (who, although only an occasional visitor, had made a lot of waves) had left the scene. So Emmerdale Farm, which had been full to the brim of Merrick storylines from 1980 to 1989 was suddenly almost Merrickless. Only Jackie's widow, Kathy, retained the name. But not for long.

Jackie was killed whilst out hunting a troublesome fox. He had a £10 bet with Pete Whiteley that he could kill the fox, which was causing problems around Home Farm. Unfortunately, Jackie's shotgun trigger snagged as he left his vehicle to pursue the fox, and the gun went off...

The story of Jackie's sudden end was played absolutely "straight", but there was a hint of 1980s tongue-in-cheekness about one of the songs playing on the car radio as the poor lad lay either dying or dead: What Have I Done To Deserve This? by the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield!

The car battery ran down, the headlights and the music faded, and that was that.

Seth Armstrong found his young friend's body and took the news to Emmerdale Farm. Joe Sugden went to Demdyke Row to break the news to young Kathy that she was now a widow.

"What have I done to deserve this?"

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